King-sized meal: a cautionary tale

Adolf Fredrik, the king who “ate himself to death," quite possibly after eating 14 helpings of the popular treat. 

  • King Adolf Fredrik died from consuming too many hetväggar (along with a lot of other foods) in 1771.
  • There’s been a little dust-up over the exact date — February 10? February 11? February 12? — of Swedish King Adolf Fredrik’s death in 1771, and it’s not clear what specifically killed him, but it is known that he had eaten his favorite dessert — a lot of it — just before he died. Is that what killed him? Was it poisoned? Can a person over-dose on semlor?

  • "Semla" — the Swedish dessert known for killing King Adolf Fredrik.
  • Goodness knows semlor are so good, one semla is never enough. Who can blame the king for wanting more? The sweet, cream-filled bun served with milk in a bowl has been the food-of-choice to indulge in on “Fettisdagen” (aka Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday), the last day before Lent, for hundreds of years — even as our forefathers were sailing to America and publishing the first issues of Nordstjernan.

  • The anatomy of a "semla." This is what makes it so good and also so dangerous (if you eat several): The fast carbs and sugar in the bun, the additional sugar in the almond paste filling, and the fat in the whipped cream.
  • But an observant, fasting Christian won’t eat them during Lent, so the king really stocked up, probably in hopes of making it through the 40 days until Easter. He reportedly had a king-sized meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring and champagne, followed by 14 super-sized servings of what was probably called “hetvägg” at the time — semlor.

  • Miniature semlor — would they have saved King Adolf Fredrik? In the southernmost part of Sweden, Skåne and by the Swedish-speaking population in Finland, the pastries are known as fastlagsbulle, in Denmark they are known as fastelavnsbolle (fastlagen and fastelavn being the equivalent of Shrovetide), and in Norway fastelavensbolle. In Finnish it is known as laskiaispulla, in Latvian as debeskūka, and in Estonian as vastlakukkel. The name derives from the Latin semilia, which was the name used for the finest quality wheat flour or semolina. Semlan was the sweet chosen to represent Finland in the Café Europe initiative of the Austrian presidency of the European Union, on Europe Day 2006.
  • Unfortunately, King Adolf Fredrik, age 60, suffered such severe indigestion or food poisoning that he died. Swedes remember Adolf Fredrik as the king who “ate himself to death.” Was it the semlor?

  • Even though you’ve probably been enjoying semlor all year (and who can blame you), don’t let history repeat itself this Fettisdagen, which falls on Feb. 28 this year. We recommend you eat your dessert first.

  • Make your own killer-good semlor: